MANCHESTER UNITED manager Sir Alex Ferguson risked a Football Association charge with a scathing attack on referee Martin Atkinson after his side’s march towards the Premier League title was hit by a magnificent Chelsea comeback.

Frank Lampard’s penalty decided a pulsating encounter after David Luiz had cancelled out Wayne Rooney’s opener, as the champions prevented 10-man United from opening up a seven-pont gap at the top of the table and boosted their own hopes of a top-four finish.

But Ferguson, who saw captain Nemanja Vidic sent off in stoppage time, vented his fury at Atkinson, in particular his failure to show Luiz a second yellow card and his awarding of the decisive 79th-minute penalty.

He said: “The penalty kick was so soft. Deary me. But we played very well. We didn’t deserve that. That’s three years in a row referees’ decisions have changed the game [at Chelsea].”

He added: “It was incredible. He [Luiz] does Rooney clear as day, [Atkinson is] six yards from it, he doesn’t do anything.”

Victory hoisted Chelsea above Tottenham and back into the Champions League places, as well as giving second-placed Arsenal a huge boost, but the Blues remain 12 points behind United and manager Carlo Ancelotti admits defending their title remains unrealistic.

“We are too far from United,” he said. “They are a very strong team and its difficult for them to lose points. We have to focus on our own team.”

Ancelotti again defended the spirit in his squad, after days of turmoil caused by Ashley Cole accidentally wounding an intern with an air rifle. He added: “The team tonight showed good spirit. I think we never had a problem with unity of the players, they always stay together, in good and bad moments it’s the same.”

Chelsea started brightly, Torres, Essien and Anelka worrying the United rearguard, but the visitors improved and silenced Stamford Bridge by taking the lead through Rooney on 30 minutes.

From then on United looked in charge, despite Van der Sar’s double save from Lampard’s free-kick and Ivanovic’s follow-up, until Luiz’s equaliser nine minutes after the restart.

The contest was flung open but Chelsea got their break in the 79th minute, when Zhirkov tumbled over Chris Smalling’s leg, and Lampard despatched the penalty.

United’s night got even worse in injury time when Vidic was shown a second yellow card, earning him a ban for Sunday’s heavyweight clash with Liverpool at Anfield.

29 mins: It just had to be him. After the FA decided not to take action for his elbow on Wigan’s James McCarthy, it was inevitable that Wayne Rooney would get on the scoresheet, and so it transpired. Nani worked the ball into his path, Chelsea stood off and the striker rifled low past Petr Cech from 20 yards

54 mins: Chelsea may have spent £50m on Fernando Torres in January, but at this early stage centre-half David Luiz looks likely to provide better value for money. The Brazil centre-half was influential at both ends and capped a fine display with a technically perfect volley that screamed in at the near post

79 mins: Chris Smalling performed admirably, but it was he who conceded the decisive penalty. Yuri Zhirkov made the most of the challenge, but by dangling a leg Smalling left Martin Atkinson with no choice but to point to the spot. Frank Lampard kept calm and smashed the spot kick down the middle